Who is eligible to be elected pope?

It is likely that the next pope will be elected from among the 209 current cardinals.  Being a cardinal is not required to be elected as pope, although tradition of centuries has favored cardinals in papal elections.  The last non-cardinal to be elected was Pope Urban VI in 1378.

In fact, a pope does not have to be a bishop or even a priest before being elected.  In fact, under canon law any baptized Catholic* man who is not a heretic, or in schism, or notorious for simony is technically eligible.  Upon election, the newly elected man would receive baptism and Holy Orders as necessary.  If not a bishop, he would be ordained as bishop by the Cardinal Dean immediately before becoming Supreme Pontiff.

In recent years, men who were elected pope have all been priests and bishops as well as being cardinals.  1455’s election of Pope Callistus III was the last time a non-priest was elected as pope.  The most recent time a non-bishop was elected was in 1831 with the selection of Pope Gregory XVI.  All 203 of the current cardinals are priests and bishops.

*for the question of whether a candidate needs to be Catholic, see “For Further Reference” below.

For More Information:

This blog post "Who can be elected pope?" written by Edward Peters, a canon lawyer (an expert on the law of the Church), gives a great discussion of the topic, including the question of whether a candidate needs to be Catholic.  In Peters' estimation the weight of authorities indicates that election of a non-Catholic would be an invalid election.


Canon 332 § 1  of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 332 §1. The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by his acceptance of legitimate election together with episcopal consecration. Therefore, a person elected to the supreme pontificate who is marked with episcopal character obtains this power from the moment of acceptance. If the person elected lacks episcopal character, however, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately.


The "backgrounder" document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says:

Technically, any baptized Catholic man who is not a heretic, or in schism, or notorious for simony can be elected pope. The last man who was not a bishop to be elected pope was Cardinal Mauro Alberto Cappellari, a Camaldolese monk and pr efect of the former Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, who was elected in 1831 and took the name Gregory XVI. The last non-cardinal to be elected pope was in 1378 when the Archbishop of Bari became Pope Urban VI. During a period of intense rivalry between Roman noble families, at least three laymen were elected pope: Benedict VIII (1012 - 24); John XIX (1024 - 32); and Benedict IX (1032 - 44; 1045; 1047 - 48).

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